Friday, April 26, 2013

Reflection on the 2013 Gathering of Friends...

Last week I got to experience my first ever Gathering of Friends, an invite-only board game event hosted by Alan Moon. It took me the last 5 days to recover from this amazing experience. I didn't pace myself well. I ended up getting sick when I got home. Guess I was desperate for some sleep, home cooking, and getting back to a regular routine.

Me with Alan & Janet Moon. 
This was honestly the best board game experience of my life. I did some number-crunching and it looks like I played about 70 games total (a mix of prototypes, published games, and coming soon games). Of the 70 games, 40 were unique titles. And of those 40 titles about 30 of them were new to me. That's a lot of games!

One of my favourite games at GoF13 - Rialto by Stefan Feld
It was so amazing to get to try a bunch of games that are not out yet. I discovered some great games that are coming soon. Some highlights for me include: Terra Mystica, Brugge, Spyrium, Rialto, Tzolkin expansion (post coming), Russian Rails, Black Spy, Clubs (post coming), etc, not to mention all the great prototypes.

Quarantine by Mercury Games (Coming Soon)
A neat success story from last year's GoF is the game Quarantine by Mercury Games. Last year my roommate Jay Cormier pitched this game by Mark Klassen (fellow Game Artisan of Canada) to a new board game company Mercury Games (Canadian company!) at GoF12. Well this year, Mercury Games had a couple advance copies to preview at the event. I got to try the finished product of the game even before the designer! The game is tons of fun, and hopefully I will be able to get the game (reviewers copy?) in the future.

Vlaada playing Cards Against Humanity with GAC
However, the Gathering's real highlight is the people. As a member of the Game Artisans of Canada, I hadn't met many of the west coast and prairie members. What a great way to meet them! Above you can see us playing a game of Cards Against Humanity. Vlaada also joined in. But the list doesn't end there. I got to meet so many great people. Some of the more noteworthy examples are the publishers and designers I got to meet. I already mentioned Vlaada & William. I dont have pictures, but some of the other highlights include getting to do dinner with great designers like Kevin G. Nunn (1955: The War of Espionage, Rolling Freight, Zong Shi) & Kevin Wilson (Arkham Horror, Android, Cosmic Encounter, Descent, Elder Sign, Fury of Dracula, A Game of Thrones, Sid Meier's Civilization, etc). Also got to hang out with a variety of amazing board game reviewers. Basically every writer for Opinionated Gamers was in attendance at the Gathering.

Game Artisans of Canada (GAC) being interviewed

One of the more unique experiences of the Gathering, atleast for me, was being part of a documentary. As many of you know, I am a big movie fan, and really love documentaries. Well, it looks like I might be part of a board game documentary. Doug was able to capture many of my pitches to publishers and he said there is a good chance my story will be part of the finished product. So keep an eye on Kickstarter as he plans to crowd-fund his documentary. I honestly sometimes forgot I was being filmed and I know Doug managed to capture some amazing moments. From live pitches from a variety of designers, to back room interviews with publishers, to insider tips from industry experts, if you like board games, or are just curious about insider business tips, you will need to watch this film.

Sails To Steam presented to Hans Im Glueck & Z-Man
Talking about pitching games, I havent mentioned some of the great success stories GAC experienced at this year's Gathering. The main goal of GoF is not pitching games, but thankfully Alan Moon is okay with it happening at his event. The amazing thing is, the entire experience is very casual and personal. Instead of it feeling very rigid and business like, the entire pitch process is fun. Publishers like to hang out with designers, and listen to pitches over dinner or even a beer. Its a real win-win environment. I give all the credit to Alan for creating such an amazing atmosphere. 

At this point I wont go into much more detail about some of the GAC games that got picked up, because I wouldn't want to get in the way of any contract's being negotiated. However, I will be sure to mention them in the future, as paperwork gets signed, and designers are open to me sharing.

Prototype designed by Stephen Sauer & I
I will share a brief summary of my pitching experience. I managed to present Londonderry to 7 publishers at the Gathering of Friends. I was actually a little shocked they were willing to meet with me, as I am an unsigned designer. Each of them are amazing companies I would be honoured to work with. It is easy for me to say that I liked them all, when all of them had many great things to say about Londonderry. Even the one publisher who outright said he was not interested (yes, most of the companies said to keep in touch), did say the game was "flawless!" What?! The publisher said it wasn't his taste of game, but really nothing major should change about the game because there is a market for this game. 

Overall, of the 6 other publishers who expressed interest to keep talking, we decided to move forward (at this stage) with two of them who were most excited about the design. A couple of the publishers I talked to even suggested I move forward with one of these two companies as they thought it would be a good fit. One thing I learned from this experience, is that publishers really work well with each other. I find this very admirable about the board game industry. That does not mean either of them will for sure sign the game. But at this point, they wanted prototypes of the game to be able to give it a more thorough evaluation. If both publishers decide to pass, then we will pursue another publisher. I really look forward to getting past this stage in the process - and focus on developing and making this game incrediable.

Alan Moon & I with the prize I brought

Last but not least, the prize table. At the end of the Gathering, we have a big ceremony and people earn prizes. Everyone gets to walk home with at least one prize because everyone brings a prize. Above is a picture of the prize I brought (thanks to my co-designer Stephen Sauer for providing me with an amazing prize). Alan Moon liked the prize so much he placed it on his main table of his favourite prizes. Woohoo! Many of the prizes on his table went to tournament winners (I played in 4 tournaments and sadly never won. I did manage to get to the finals in 3 of them). But I ended up getting a pretty amazing prize, a jumbo version of Blokus (generously donated by Kevin O'Brien!) However, after the event, my friend Ben (owner of Snakes & Lattes) was heartbroken I scooped that prize on him, so I traded him the prize for a couple games. I know it will get lots of love at Snakes & Lattes, and I can visit my awesome prize any time I go.